When the Queen learned that she could not have a child, she cried for three days. She cried in the clinic in Switzerland, on the shoulder of the doctor, an expert on women’s complaints, leaving tear stains on his white coat. She cried on the train through Austria, while the Alps slipped past the window of her compartment, their white peaks covered with snow. She cried when the children from the Primary School met her at the station, bringing her bouquets of snowdrops, the first of the season. And after the French teacher presented her with the bouquets, and the children sang the Sylvanian national anthem, their breaths forming a mist on the cold air—she cried especially then.
“It doesn’t matter, Margarethe,” said King Karel. “My nephew Radomir will make a fine king. Look at how well he’s doing at the Primary School. Look at how much he likes building bridges, and if any country needs bridges, it’s Sylvania.” For the Danube and its tributaries ran through the country, so that wherever you went in Sylvania was over a river, or perhaps two.
And then Queen Margarethe stopped crying, because it was time to greet the French ambassador, and she was after all the youngest daughter of the King of Greece. She had been trained to restrain her emotions, at least at state functions. And the blue satin of her dress would stain.
But that night, when the French ambassador was discussing business with the bankers of Sylvania, and her other guests were discussing French innovations in art (for although Sylvania was a small country, it had a fashionable court) or losing at cards in a cloud of cigarette smoke, the Queen walked out to the terrace.
It was a cold night, and she pulled the blue satin wrap more closely about her shoulders. The full moon above her was wearing a wrap of gray clouds. In its light, she walked down the steps of the terrace, between the topiaries designed by Radomir IV, boxwood swans swimming in a pool of grass, a boxwood stag running from overgrown boxwood hounds. She shivered because her wrap was not particularly warm, but walked on through the rose garden, which was a tangle of canes. She did not want to go back to the castle, or face her guests.
She reached the croquet lawn, beyond which began the forest that surrounded Karelstad, where croquet balls were routinely lost during tournaments between the ministers and the ladies-in-waiting. Suddenly, she heard laughter. She looked around, frightened, and said, “Is anyone there?”
No one answered. But under a chestnut tree that would be covered with white flowers in spring, she saw a basket. She knelt beside it, although the frost on the grass would stain her dress more certainly than tears, and saw a child. It was so young that the laugh she had heard might have been its first, and it waved its fist, either at the moon above or at the Queen, whose face looked like a second moon in the darkness.
She lifted the child from its basket. Surely it must be cold, left out on a night like this, when winter still covered Sylvania. Surely whoever had left it here did not deserve a child. She picked it up, with the blanket it was wrapped in, and carried it over the croquet lawn, through the rose garden, between the boxwood swans and the boxwood stag, up the terrace steps, to the castle.
“Surely she has a mother,” said the King. “I know this has been difficult for you, Margarethe, but we can’t just keep her.”
“If you could send the Chamberlain out for diapers,” said the Queen. “And tell Countess Agata to warm a bottle.”
“We’ll have to advertise in the Karelstad Gazette. And when her mother replies, we’ll have to return her.”
“Look,” said the Queen, holding the child up to the window, for the cook had scattered cake crumbs on the terrace, and pigeons were battling over them. “Look, embroidered on the corner of her blanket. It must be her name: Lucinda.”
No one answered the advertisement, although it ran for four weeks, with a description of the child and where she had been found. And when the King himself went to look beneath the chestnut tree, even the basket was gone.
Princess Lucinda was an ordinary child. She liked to read books, not the sort that princesses were supposed to like, but books about airplanes, and mountain climbing, and birds. She liked to play with her dolls, so long as she could make parachutes for them and toss them down from the branches of the chestnut tree. The Queen was afraid that someday Lucinda would fall, but she could not stop her from climbing trees, or putting breadcrumbs on her windowsill for the pigeons, or dropping various objects, including the King’s scepter, out of the palace window, to see if they would fly.
Lucinda also liked the gardener’s daughter, Bertila, who could climb trees, although not so well as the Princess. She did not like receptions, or formal dresses, or narrow shoes, and she particularly disliked Jaromila, her lady-in-waiting and Countess Agata’s daughter.
But there were two unusual things about Princess Lucinda. Although her hair was brown, it had a silver sheen, and in summer it became so pale that it seemed purely silver. And the Princess walked in her sleep. When the doctor noticed that it happened only on moonlit nights, the Queen ordered shutters to be placed on Lucinda’s windows, and moonlight was never allowed into her room.
For the Princess’ sixteenth birthday, the Queen planned a party. Of course she did not know when the Princess had been born, so she chose a day in summer, when the roses would be at their best and her guests could smoke on the terrace.
Everyone of importance in Sylvania was invited, from the Prime Minister to the French teacher at the Primary School. (Education was considered important in Sylvania, and King Karel had said on several occasions that education would determine Sylvania’s success in the new century.) The Queen hired an orchestra that had been the fashion that winter in Prague, although she confessed to the Chamberlain that she could not understand modern music. And Prince Radomir came home from Oxford.
“They ought to be engaged,” said the Queen at breakfast. “Look at what an attractive couple they make, and what good friends they are already.” Princess Lucinda and Prince Radomir were walking below the morning room windows, along the terrace. The Queen might have been less optimistic if she had known that they were discussing airplane engines. “And then she would be Queen.”
She looked steadily at the King, and raised her eyebrows.
“But I can’t help it, Margarethe,” said King Karel, moving his scrambled eggs nervously around on his plate with a fork. “When the first King Karel was crowned by the Pope himself, he decreed that the throne must always pass to a male heir.”
“Then it’s about time that women got the vote,” said the Queen, and drank her coffee. Which was usually how she left it. King Karel imagined suffragettes crashing through the castle windows and writing “Votes for Women” on the portraits of Radomir IV and his queen, Olga.
“How can you not like him?” asked Bertila later, as she and Lucinda sat on the grass, beneath the chestnut tree.
“Oh, I like him well enough,” said Lucinda. “But I don’t want to marry him. And I’d make a terrible queen. You should have seen me yesterday, during all those speeches. My shoes were hurting so badly that I kept shifting from foot to foot, and Mother kept raising her eyebrows at me. You don’t know how frightening it is, when she raises her eyebrows. It makes me feel like going to live in the dungeon. But I don’t want to stand for hours shaking hands with ambassadors, or listen to speeches, even if they are in my honor. I want—”
What did she want? That was the problem, really. She did not know.
“But he’s so handsome, with those long eyelashes, and you know he’s smart.” Bertila lay back on the grass and stared at the chestnut leaves.
“Then you should marry him yourself. Honestly, I don’t know what’s gotten into you lately. You used to be so sensible, and now you’re worse than Jaromila.”
“Beast. As though a prince could marry a gardener’s daughter.” Bertila threw a chestnut, rejected by a squirrel the previous autumn because a worm had eaten through its center, at the Princess.
“Ouch. Stop it, or I’ll start throwing them back at you. And not only do I have more chestnuts, I have much better aim. But seriously, Bertie, you’d make a better queen than I would. You’re so beautifully patient and polite. And since you’re already in love with his eyelashes . . .”
“There you are,” said Jaromila. “Lying in the dirt as usual, and talking with servants.” She tapped one shoe, as pointed and uncomfortable as fashion demanded, on the grass.
“You’re not wanted here,” said Lucinda.
“But you’re wanted at the reception, half an hour ago.”
“You see?” said Lucinda to Bertila, in dismay. “You’d make a much better queen than I would!”
“And she’d be just as entitled to it,” said Jaromila. She had also seen Lucinda walking with Radomir on the terrace, but she had reacted quite differently than the Queen. She could not tell you the length of Radomir’s eyelashes, but she knew that one day he would be king.
“What do you mean?” asked Lucinda.
“Yes, what do you mean?” asked Bertila. She was usually patient, just as Lucinda had said, but today she would have liked to pull Jaromila’s hair.
“Well, it’s time someone told you,” said Jaromila, shifting her feet, because it was difficult to stand on the grass, and because she was nervous. “But you can’t tell anyone it was me.” From the day the Princess had been found, Queen Margarethe had implied that Lucinda was her own child, born in Switzerland. No one at court had dared to question the Queen, and the Chamberlain and Countess Agata liked their positions too well to contradict her. But Jaromila had heard them discussing it one night, over glasses of sherry. If anyone found out that Jaromila had told the Princess, she would be sent to her grandmother’s house in Dobromir, which had no electric lights or telephone, not even a phonograph.
“Told what?” asked Lucinda. “You’d better tell me quickly. I have a whole pile of chestnuts, and you can’t run in those shoes.”
“That you’re not a princess at all. You were found in a basket under this chestnut tree, like a peasant’s child.”
That afternoon, the Queen had to tell Lucinda three times not to fidget in front of the French ambassador.
As soon as the reception was over, Lucinda ran up to her room and lay on her bed, staring up at the ceiling. Who was she, if she was not the Princess Lucinda? After a while, she got up and took off the dress she had worn to the reception, which had been itching all afternoon. She put on her pajamas. But she could not sleep. For the first time in her life, she opened the shutters on her bedroom windows and looked out. There was the moon, as full as a silver Kroner, casting the shadows of boxwood swans and hounds on the lawn.
In her slippers, she crept down the stairs and out the French doors to the terrace. She walked between the topiaries and the rose bushes, over the croquet lawn, to edge of the forest. There, she lay on the grass and stared up at the moon, through the branches of the chestnut tree. “Who am I?” she asked. It seemed to smile at her, but gave no answer.
Lucinda woke shivering, with dew on her pajamas. She had to sneak back into the castle without being seen by the footmen, who were already preparing for the party.
Jaromila had forgotten to set out the dress she was supposed to wear, a white dress the Queen had chosen, with a train she would probably trip over on the stairs. With a sigh, Lucinda opened the door of her dressing room and started looking through the dresses that hung there, all the dresses she had worn since her christening, for although Lucinda did not care about dresses, Queen Margarethe cared a great deal.
That was why she missed the excitement.
Jaromila had been afraid to go to the Princess’ room that morning. Lucinda would certainly tell the Queen what she had said, and when the Queen found out—Jaromila remembered Dobromir. So she stayed in the ballroom, where Queen Margarethe was preparing for the party by changing her mind several times about who should sit where. Countess Agata was writing place cards, and the footmen were setting out the glasses for champagne.
King Karel, still in his slippers, wandered into the ballroom and said, “Margarethe, have you seen my crown? I thought I left it next to my bureau—”
That was when the shaking started. The ballroom shook as though the earth were opening beneath it. Jaromila, who was standing by the French doors, clutched at the curtains to stay upright. The Queen fell on Countess Agata’s lap, which made a relatively comfortable cushion. The King, less fortunate, stumbled into the footmen, who toppled like dominoes. Most of the champagne glasses crashed to the floor.
A voice resounded through the ballroom. “Bring me the Princess Lucinda!”
The King, recovering his breath, said, “Whatever was that?”
Prince Radomir ran into the room and said, “Was it an earthquake?”
One of the footmen, who had fallen by the French doors, said, “By Saint Benedek, that’s the biggest dog I’ve ever seen.”
The King went to the French doors, leaving Prince Radomir to pick up the Queen and the Countess. There, on the terrace, stood a hound, as white as milk and as large as a pony.
“Bring me the Princess Lucinda!” he said again, in a voice like thunder. Then he shook himself, and the ballroom shook with him, so the King had to hold on to a curtain, like Jaromila, to stay upright. The remaining champagne glasses crashed to the floor, and the footmen fell down again in a heap.
Nothing in King Karel’s training had prepared him for an enormous hound on his terrace, a hound who evidently had the ability to shake his castle to its foundations (his training having focused on international diplomacy and the Viennese waltz). But he was a practical man. So he said, from behind the curtain, “Who are you, and what do you want with the Princess?”
“I am the Hound of the Moon. If you don’t bring me the Princess Lucinda, I will bite the head off the statue of King Karel in front of the cathedral, and the steeple off the cathedral itself, and the turrets off the castle. And if I’m still hungry, I’ll bite the roofs off all the houses in Karelstad—”
“Here she is, here is the Princess Lucinda!” said the Queen, pushing Jaromila out the French doors. Jaromila, surprised and frightened, screamed. The Countess, who has leaning on Radomir, also screamed and fainted.
But the hound grabbed Jaromila by the sash around her waist, leaped from the terrace and landed among the topiaries, then leaped through the rose garden and over the forest, into the clouds.
Lucinda never noticed. When the castle had shaken, all the dresses on the shelves of the dressing room had fallen on top of her, along with most of the shoes, and when she had crawled out from beneath them, she imagined that she had somehow shaken them down herself. And still the dress for the ball was nowhere to be found.
The hound dropped Jaromila on the floor of a cave whose walls were covered with crystals.
The first thing she said when she had regained her breath was, “I’m not the Princess Lucinda.”
“We shall see,” said the hound. “Get up, whoever you are, and take a seat.”
At the center of the cave, arranged around a table, Jaromila saw three chairs. The first was an obvious example of Opulentism, which had been introduced at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. Its arms were carved to resemble griffins, with garnets for eyes, and it was elaborately gilded. The second was a chair any Sylvanian farmer could have carved on a winter night as he sat by his fireside. The third was simply a stool of white wood.
Surely he didn’t expect her to sit on that. And as for the second chair, she wasn’t a peasant. Jaromila sat in the first chair, on its cushion of crimson velvet, and put her arms on the griffins.
“Can I offer you something to drink?” asked the hound.
On the table, she saw three cups. The first was certainly gold, and probably Lalique. The others were unimportant, a silver cup like those common in Dobromir, which had a silver mine, and a cup of horn that a shepherd might have drunk from. Of course she would drink from the first. She took a careful sip. The wine it contained, as red as the griffins’ eyes, gave her courage.
“I’m not the Princess Lucinda. You will take me home at once!”
“As you wish,” said the hound. “But the journey might be cold. Can I offer you a coat?”
In his mouth he held three coats. The first was a crimson brocade embroidered with gold thread, which she had seen just that week in a catalog from Worth’s. That was the coat she would wear, not the plain green wool, or the dingy white thing that the hound must have drooled on.
But as soon as she reached to take it, the hound opened his mouth, dropped the coats, and once again grabbed her sash. And then they were off, over the forests of Sylvania, over Karelstad and the croquet lawn, to the castle terrace.
The King was still trying to soothe the Queen, who was crying, “What have I done?” Prince Radomir was waving smelling salts under the Countess’ nose. The footmen were trying to sweep up the shattered glasses.
Upstairs, Lucinda had finally found her dress. It was in the Queen’s own dressing room, behind an ermine cape. She sighed with relief. Now at last she could go to the party.
Just as the hound landed, Jaromila’s sash ripped, and she dropped to the terrace.
“Bring me the Princess Lucinda!” said the hound. “If you don’t bring me the Princess, I will drink up the fountain in front of King Karel’s statue, and the pond by the Secondary School that the children skate on, and the river Morek, whose waters run through all the faucets of Karelstad. And if I’m still thirsty, I’ll drink up the Danube itself—”
“I am the Princess Lucinda,” said a voice from the garden. Bertila walked up the terrace steps. She had woken early to see the preparations for the party, and had been watching all this time from behind the topiary stag.
“Isn’t that the gardener’s daughter?” asked Prince Radomir. But at that moment the Queen screamed (it seemed her turn), and nobody heard him.
Under ordinary circumstances, no one would have mistaken Bertila for a princess. Her dresses were often patched, and because her mother had died when she was born, she sewed on the patches herself, so they were usually crooked. But today all the servants not needed for the party had been given a holiday, and she was wearing an old dress of Lucinda’s. Lucinda had been allowed to give it away because it had torn on a tree branch. Bertila had mended it (with the wrong color thread), but the rip was toward the back, so she hoped it would not be noticed.
“Climb on my back then,” said the hound, and climb she did. She twisted her fingers into the hair at his neck, and held on as well as she could when he leaped from the terrace over the forests of Sylvania.
“Mama!” cried Jaromila, at which the Countess revived. But the Queen went into hysterics. And that was when Lucinda finally came down the stairs, holding her train, and stared about her, at the footmen sweeping the floor and the sobbing Queen.
“What in the world is going on?” she asked. King Karel tried to tell her, as did the Queen in broken sobs, and even the Countess, who clutched Prince Radomir’s arm so hard that he could not answer. Jaromila tried to powder her nose in the mirror, because after all Prince Radomir was present.
“Radomir?” said Lucinda. And then Radomir explained about the hound and Bertila’s deception.
“Well,” said Lucinda, when the explanation was over. She turned to the King and Queen. “I think it’s time you told me everything.”
Bertila looked about the cave.
“Will you take a seat?” asked the hound.
“Thank you,” said Bertila. Which chair should she choose? Or rather, which chair would Lucinda choose, since she must convince the hound? She had read Lucinda’s copy of the Brothers Grimm, which Lucinda had left on the croquet lawn. This was surely a test. Her hands were shaking, and she could scarcely believe that she had spoken in the garden. But here she was, and the deception must continue. Whatever danger Lucinda was in, she must try to save her friend.
Surely Lucinda would never choose a chair so gaudy as the gold one. And a stool did not seem appropriate for a princess. But the wooden chair looked like the one her father had carved for her mother. Lucinda had sat in it often, when she came to the gardener’s cottage. The wood had been sanded smooth by a careful hand, and ivy leaves had been painted over the arms and back. That was a chair fit for a princess of Sylvania. She sat down.
“Would you care for something to drink?” asked the hound.
“Thank you,” said Bertila. “I really am thirsty.”
Lucinda would make fun of the gold cup, and the cup of white horn was like the stool, too plain. But the silver cup, with the snowdrops in enamel, might have been made by the silversmiths of Dobromir, who were the finest in Sylvania. It was a cup fit for the Pope himself. She paused before taking a sip, but surely the hound would not hurt her. He had treated her well so far. The cup was filled with a delicate cider, which smelled like peaches.
“Thank you,” she said. “And now I think I’m ready.” Although she did not know what she was ready for.
“Very well,” said the hound. “You must choose a coat for the journey.”
Lucinda would never wear the crimson brocade. But the coat of green wool, with its silver buttons and tasseled hood, looked warm and regal enough for a princess. There was another coat beneath, but it looked tattered and worn.
“I’ll wear this one,” said Bertila.
“You’re not the Princess Lucinda,” said the hound.
Bertila stood silently, twisting the coat in her hands. “No” she said finally. “I’m sorry. I hope you don’t blame me.”
“It was brave of you,” said the hound. “But you must return to the castle.”
When he landed on the terrace with Bertila, Lucinda was waiting.
“You don’t have to threaten anyone this time, or break any glasses,” she said. “I’m Princess Lucinda, and I’m ready to go with you.”
The Queen was sent to bed with a dose of laudanum. The King cancelled the invitations for the party. Countess Agata had a lunch of poached eggs with the Chamberlain and asked what the monarchy was coming to. Jaromila tried to find Prince Radomir. But he was sitting under the chestnut tree with Bertila, asking if she was all right, and if she was sure. Bertila was blushing and admiring his eyelashes.
“Will you take a seat?” asked the hound.
“What a strange stool,” said Lucinda. She had never read the Brothers Grimm, although Bertila had handed her the book with a reproachful glance. “The wood seems to glow. I wonder where it comes from?”
“From the mountains of the moon,” said the hound. “Down the slopes of those mountains flow rivers, and on the banks of those rivers grow willow trees, with leaves as white as paper. When the wind blows, they whisper secrets about what is past and what is to come. This stool is made from the wood of those willow trees.”
“This is where I’ll sit,” said Lucinda.
“Can I offer you something to drink?” asked the hound.
“What a curious cup,” said Lucinda, picking up the cup of horn. “It’s so delicate that the light shines right through it.”
“On the slopes of the mountains of the moon,” said the hound, “wander herds of sheep, whose wool is as soft and white as thistledown. This cup is carved from the horn of a ram who roamed those mountains for a hundred years.”
Lucinda drank from the cup. The water in it was cold, and tasted of snow.
“And now,” said the hound, “you must choose a coat for our journey.”
“Where are we going?” asked Lucinda. “Oh, how lovely!” She held up a coat that had been lying beneath the coats of crimson brocade and green wool. “Why, it’s covered with feathers!”
“The rivers of the moon flow into lakes,” said the hound, “and on those lakes live flocks of herons. They build their nests beneath the willow branches, and line them with feathers. There, they lay their eggs and raise their children through the summer. When winter comes, they return to Africa, leaving their nests behind. This coat is made from the feathers of those herons. As for your question, Princess—to meet your mother.”
“My mother?” said Lucinda, sitting abruptly back down on the stool. “Oh, I don’t know. I mean, until yesterday I thought Queen Margarethe—What is my mother like? Do you think she’ll like me?”
The hound seemed to smile, or at least showed his teeth. “She’s my mother also. I’m your brother, Lucinda, although we have different fathers. Mine was Sirius, the Dog Star. Yours was a science teacher at the Secondary School.”
“And my mother—our mother?” asked Lucinda.
“Our mother is the Moon, and she’s the one who sent me for you. Put on your coat, Lucinda. Its feathers will warm you in the darkness we must pass through. Now climb on my back. Mother is eager to see you, and we have waited long enough.”
As though in a dream, for nothing in her life, not even the books on airplanes and mountain climbing, had prepared her for such an event, Lucinda put on the coat of white feathers and climbed on the back of the hound. He leaped to the edge of the cave, and then into the sky itself. She was surrounded at first by clouds, and then by stars. All the stars were visible to her, and the Pleiades waved to her as she flew past, calling out, “She’s been waiting for you, Lucinda!” Sirius barked and wagged his tail, and the hound barked back. Then they were landing in a valley covered with grass as white as a handkerchief, by a lake whose waters shone like silver.
“Lucinda! Is that really you?”
The woman standing by the side of the lake had silver hair so long that it swept the grasses at her feet, but her face looked not much older than Lucinda’s. She seemed at once very young and very old, and at the moment very anxious.
“It is,” said the hound. “Go on,” he said to Lucinda, nudging her with his nose. “Don’t you want to meet her?”
Lucinda walked forward, awkwardly. “It’s nice to meet you . . .”
“Oh, my dear,” said the Moon, laughing and taking Lucinda in her arms, “I’m so happy to have found you at last!”
The Moon lived in a stone house surrounded by a garden of white roses. A white cat sat on the windowsill, watching Lucinda with eyes like silver Kroners.
“The soup will be ready in a moment,” said the Moon. “I find that the journey between the earth and my home always makes me hungry.”
“Do you travel to the earth?” asked Lucinda.
The Moon laughed again. Her laughter sounded like a silver bell, clear and sweet. “You would not have been born, otherwise! In a shed at the back of the house live my bats. Whenever I want to travel to the earth, I harness them and they pull me through the darkness. Perhaps later you’ll help me feed them. They like the nectar of my roses. Here, blow on this if you think it’s too hot.”
She put a bowl of soup in front of Lucinda. It was the color of milk but smelled like chicken, and Lucinda suddenly realized that she had forgotten to eat breakfast.
“Tell me about that,” said Lucinda. “I mean, how I was born. If you don’t mind,” she added. There was so much she wanted to know. How did one ask a mother one had just met?
“Well,” said the Moon, sitting down at the table and clasping her hands. “Your father’s name was Havel Kronborg. When he was a child, he would lie at night in his father’s fields, in Dobromir, and look at the stars. But even then, I think, he loved me better than any of them. How glad I was when he received a scholarship to study astronomy in Berlin! And how proud when his first paper was published in a scientific journal. It was about me, of course, about my mountains and lakes. But when his father died, the farm had to be sold to pay the mortgage, so he worked as a science teacher at the Secondary School. Each night he wandered on the slopes of the mountains about Karelstad, observing the stars. And one night, I met him in the forest.
“How well I remember those months. I could only visit him when the moon was dark—even for love, I could not neglect my work. But each month that we met, our child—that was you, Lucinda—was closer to being born, and his book, Observations on the Topography of the Moon, closer to being completed.
“When you were born, I wrapped you in a blanket I had woven from the wool of my sheep, and laid you in a basket of willow branches. Your brother slept beside you and guarded you, and all the stars sang you lullabies.”
“Was it this blanket?” asked Lucinda. Out of her pocket she pulled a blanket as fine as silk, which the King had given her in the course of his explanation. Her name was embroidered on one corner. She had been carrying it with her since, but had almost forgotten it. How far away Karelstad seemed, and the Queen, and her life as a princess.
The Moon reached out to touch it, and her eyes filled with silver tears. “Your father asked me to leave you with him for a month. How could I refuse? But I told him to set you in the moonlight every night, so I could see you. One night, while he was gathering mushrooms in the forest for a botany lesson, he placed your basket beneath a tree. I watched you lying there, laughing up at me. But suddenly a cloud came between us, and when it had passed, you were gone.
“You can’t imagine his grief. He searched all that night through the forest around the castle. When the gardener found him in the morning, he was coughing, and could not speak. The doctor told him he had caught pneumonia. He died a week later. I found the basket by his bedside. It’s the only thing I’ve had of yours, all these years.”
Silver tears trickled down her cheeks. She wiped them away with the blanket.
Lucinda reached out her hand, not knowing what to say. The Moon took it in her own, and smiled through her tears. “But now we’ve found each other. How like him you look, so practical and solemn. I searched the world for years, but never saw you until last night, lying beneath the tree where he had left you. I knew who you were at once, although you’ve grown so tall. Will you walk with me, Lucinda? I want to show you the country where you were born.”
The strangest thing about being on the moon was how familiar it seemed. Lucinda learned to feed the bats, gathering white roses from the garden, tying them together in bundles, and hanging them upside down from the rafters where the bats slept through the night, while the moon was shining. She learned to call the sheep that roamed the mountains, and to comb their fleece. The Moon spun the long hairs caught in the comb on a spinning wheel that sang as it whirled. She learned to gather branches from the willow trees and weave them into baskets, like the one the Moon had shown her, saying, “This is where you slept, as a child.”
Sometimes, after the night’s work was done, she would sit with the Moon beside the lake, watching the herons teach their children to fly. They would talk about Lucinda’s childhood in Karelstad, or the Moon’s childhood, long ago, and the things she had seen, when elephants roamed through Sylvania, and the Romans built their roads through its forests, and Morek drove out the Romans, claiming its fertile valleys for his tribe, and Karel I raised an army of farmers and merchants, and drove out the Turks. Then they would lie on the grass and look at the stars dancing above them.
“Their dances were ancient before I was born,” said the Moon. “Look at Alcyone! She always wears diamonds in her hair. And Sirius capering among them. We were in love, when I was young. But we each had our work to do, and it could not last. Ah, here is your brother.”
The white hound lay next to Lucinda. She put her arm around him, and the three of them watched the stars in their ancient dances.
One day, the Moon showed Lucinda her observatory, on a slope above the lake. “This is where I watch what happens on the earth,” she said.
Lucinda put her eye to the telescope. “I can see the castle at Karelstad.”
“That was where I last looked,” said the Moon. “Since you’ve been here, I’ve had no wish to look at the earth. It reminds me of the years before I found you.”
“There’s Bertila, walking in the garden with Radomir. I can see Jaromila. She’s looking in her mirror. And King Karel is talking to the French ambassador. Why do they look so sad? Well, except Jaromila. And there’s the Queen. Why, she seems to be crying. And I’ve never seen her wearing a black dress. Oh!” said Lucinda. “Is it me? Do they think I’m dead?”
The Moon looked at her sadly.
“I’m so sorry,” said Lucinda. “It’s just—I grew up with them all. And Queen Margarethe was my mother. I mean, I thought she was.”
“She was, my dear,” said the Moon. “She was the best mother she could be, and so I forgive her, although she has caused me much grief. I knew that eventually you’d want to return to the earth. It’s where your father belonged, and you belong there also. But you will come to visit me, won’t you?”
“Of course I will, Mother,” said Lucinda.
That night, while the moon was shining, they harnessed the bats. Lucinda put on her coat of heron feathers, and took the reigns.
“Before you go,” said the Moon, “I have something to give you. This is the book your father wrote. I’ve kept it for many years, but I would like you to have it. After all, I have my memories of him.” For a moment, she held Lucinda, then said to the bats, “Fly swiftly!”
The bats lifted Lucinda above the white roses in the garden, and above the stone house. The Moon called, “Goodbye, my dear,” and then she was flying over the mountains of the moon and toward the earth, which lay wrapped in darkness.
She landed on the castle terrace, just as the sun was rising over the forest around Karelstad. Lucinda released the reigns, then ran into the castle and up the stairs, to the Queen’s bedroom.
Queen Margarethe was sitting by the window. She had not slept all night, and her eyes were red with weeping. She thought she must be dreaming when she saw Lucinda enter the room and say, “Good morning, Mother.”
Lucinda’s sixteenth birthday party took place a month late, but was perhaps all the merrier. The orchestra from Prague played, the champagne flowed freely, and the footmen danced with each other in the hall. Under a glittering chandelier, the French ambassador asked Jaromila to marry him, and on the terrace, beneath a full moon, Radomir asked Bertila the same question.
When Lucinda went to her room that night, her head spinning from champagne and her feet aching from the narrow shoes, she found a white stool on which sat a white cup. In the cup was a silver necklace. From it hung a moonstone, which glowed like the moon itself, and next to the cup was a card on which was written, in silver ink, “Happy Birthday, my dear.”
The next morning, Lucinda went to the graveyard behind the cathedral. There, by the grave of a forgotten science teacher, she laid a bouquet of white roses.
Observations on the Topography of the Moon received an enthusiastic reception among astronomers in London, Paris, and New York, and was widely quoted in the scientific journals. It was eventually included in the Secondary School curriculum, and the author’s portrait appeared on the two Zlata stamp.
After her husband’s death, Jaromila opened a couture house in Paris and became famous as the inventor of the stiletto heel. When Radomir finished his degree in engineering, King Karel retired. He and Queen Margarethe lived to a contented old age in the country. King Radomir and Queen Bertila guided Sylvania through two world wars. Karelstad eventually became a center of international banking, where even the streets were said to be paved with Kroners. They sat together, listening to the radio, on the night Lucinda won the Nobel prize for her theories on astrophysics.
But no one, except the white hound that was occasionally seen wandering around the garden of her house in Dobromir, ever found out that she had been the first person on the moon.
© 2007 by Theodora Goss.
Originally published in Realms of Fantasy.
Reprinted by permission of the author.